Tuesday, October 21, 2008

All in the Family: Vanity and Humility

This past week has been a study of Vanity and her poor brother, Humility. Vanity is the sister who preens with excessive pride in her appearance. Humility, on the other hand, knows that there are more important things in life, and deflects attention away from his outward show. Vanity made the choice to fill her mouth with sapphires with the promise of rich rewards in two years' time, but Humility must bear the burden of the discomfort in the unsightly interim.

Braces are a choice on my part. Not because I vainly decided one day that I wanted perfect teeth, but because I was told "Now or Never." Do it now, or never do it, they said. That is a powerful impetus for action in the now. I have already stocked up on enough past dental regrets to fill the empty sockets where my wise back teeth used to be; I did not need another. And why not? After all, it did bother me that the flash of a camera would reflect on one front tooth and not the other. Vanity won out under the pressure of immediacy.

The immediacy came unexpectedly. I sat down into the dentist's chair expecting to get my teeth cleaned, and left with the ominous news that my root canal failed and the front bottom tooth would need to be extracted in the next few weeks to avoid further bone loss. There was a war being fought in my very chin of which I was unaware. The next few days and next few doctors revealed that orthodontia would have to be completed before the implant, or never. Implants apparently don't move. Not only that, but the implant would need to wait until the teeth were moved to their proper place. Normally, they would move the root canal tooth with the braces, but my tooth needed to come out soon. Enter the pontic.

I asked the ortho consultant to spell that word; I had never heard the term "pontic" before. It is essentially an artificial tooth that is mounted on a fixed or removable dental appliance, in this case glued to a bracket of the braces and nestled between the teeth at the gumline. Pontic is also a form of the Greek language originally spoken in the Pontus area of the southern shores of the Black Sea. I think the consultant was referring to the former definition. Apparently, pontics are rare and endangered, and quite elusive. I had my tooth removed five days ago, and despite previous assurances to the contrary, I am advised to allow the "open wound" to heal further before the placement of the so-named Greek Pontic.

So here I sit, with a gap the width of Utah in my face. My tall bottom teeth, being the predominantly visible teeth when I speak, make me want to use words such as "hag" to describe myself. There is as much contrast between the cute little six-year-old with a missing tooth and the 42-year-old hag as there is with luscious hair on your head and the same clogging the drain. So speaks Vanity.

Humility on the other hand is the pragmatist. Gum and jaw bone health are the greater issue. Near-term aesthetics can be compromised for long-term gain. Humility will talk to strangers and be proud, knowing that the final remaining amalgam is gone, and dental purity has been achieved. Vanity will duck behind a cement pillar at the church festival to avoid an encounter. Even though I am becoming accustomed to housing the Mormom captial of the world in my mouth, and perhaps even my children are used to it, I feel as though I sport a neon sign inside my lip when I speak to someone new. I envision them revulsing without expression to spare my feelings.

I had the inspired idea of using orthodontic wax to fashion a tooth for short duration when I was in public. At first it appeared to work famously, and it actually did not look that bad. A miscolored tooth far surpasses a missing tooth. It's like that luscious hair, only in the hairbrush instead of the drain. The only caveat with this idea is its staying power. I endangered myself and my children while driving, as I kept checking the position of my wax pontic in the rearview mirror. Vanity is not the best at making good judgment calls. If I let her, she would go in public with a tight tshirt and no bra in an attempt to detract attention from her mouth, the wench. I drew the line on that one.

Vanity refused to sing at church, and mumbled peace to those around her. Humility tried to appease, assuring her of loved ones' continued devotion despite the map of our mouth. I listened to both, and Humility won out as I chatted with a dear friend out in front of the church. Naturally, I launched a preemptive strike, explaining my dental condition in great detail to evoke sympathy rather than repulsion. In the middle of our conversation, my waxing tooth decided to wane. I just plucked it out and tossed it in the grass. I think Vanity had had enough for awhile, and is hiding behind a pillar somewhere.

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